RaveThe New York Times Book Review... epic and intimate ... Collective biography is a difficult business. The voice of each character needs to emerge distinctly, yet the ensemble should be richer than the sum of its solos...Wickenden confronts steeper obstacles. In no account of their own lives would Wright, Seward or Tubman have made one another principal characters. And the documentary record upon which The Agitators rests is uneven and sometimes precarious. Wickenden’s commitment to keeping her trio in the frame and in focus showcases prodigious narrative control. The Agitators is a masterpiece, not least, of structure, as each of the title characters dons her mantle, takes the stage and does a turn, usually at arm’s length from the others ... Entwining these three asymmetrical lives as deftly as Wickenden does proves illuminating. Tubman’s actions reveal the existential stakes of Wright’s and Seward’s agitations. Her freedom journeys made their words flesh. But for all the excellence of The Agitators, there is monumental work yet to be done about the \'She-Moses,\' the hundreds she wrested from Pharaoh’s grip and their thousands of descendants.
PositiveThe Wall Street Journal... fits the genre of true crime only partially, bearing little resemblance, for example, to Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, in which the author, a master manipulator of plot, character and scene, conceals himself, the better to immerse the reader in time and place. Ms. Cooper’s, by contrast, is a quest narrative, with an angsty young protagonist and fractured storytelling along the lines of the podcast Serial. When Ms. Cooper describes her war room, covered with \'theories and photos, a map of Iran, a blueprint of an apartment building, all stuck to my cork boards with dissection needles,\' she sounds like Carrie Mathison of Homeland, flirting with the porous boundary between commitment and mania ... Britton has now been dead more than twice as long as she lived. Felled when her adult life had barely begun, she is hard to see as more than the sum of others’ unfilled needs and hazy memories, especially when her chronicler seems so often to turn shards of evidence into mirrors. But when she emerges, in flickers, her character is as tantalizing and as fleeting as her smile.
MixedThe Wall Street Journal\"As personal narrative, The Library Book offers a frisson of delight to every four-eyed haunter of the stacks ... As whodunit, Ms. Orlean’s account is less satisfying... Ms. Orlean delves into recent research on arson forensics, a pseudoscience long on certainties and short on evidence ... The Library Book is, in the end, a Whitmanesque yawp, bringing to life a place and an institution that represents the very best of America: capacious, chaotic, tolerant and even hopeful, with faith in mobility of every kind, even, or perhaps especially, in the face of adversity.\
Donna M. Lucey
MixedThe Wall Street JournalSargent’s Women abounds with dazzling characters in atmospheric settings. Yet because it lacks a natural arc, much less a plot, its success owes entirely to the skills of the author. A dogged sleuth, a confident stylist and a clever narrative architect, Ms. Lucey arranges the four essays according to what might be called life-course chronology: in the order of the age at which each sitter was painted ... Taken together, the four essays ring changes on a common female arc of life, shaped by the fluctuating fortunes of fathers and by the choices and chances of marriage, in sickness and in health ... Like Sargent, Ms. Lucey sometimes over-gilds her lilies, and the narrative can take on the tone of a Merchant-Ivory film, long on sealing wax and steamer trunks and shorter on analytical depth. For all its surface delights, Sargent’s Women fails to plumb 'the horrible sympathy' that binds portraits and their sitters, as Wilde put it in Dorian Gray. Once varnished and dried, the paintings do little to advance Ms. Lucey’s story, nor does she probe the roles the portraits played in the lives of their sitters. Her descriptions of the portraits sometimes verge on cliché.
RaveThe Wall Street JournalLauren Elkin brings breadth and depth to a cocktail party crowded with genius. If she lacks the crystalline spareness of Ms. Didion, the wryness of Parker or the rawness of Ms. Smith, she blends memoir, history and cultural criticism in illuminating ways ... Her walkabouts in Paris and elsewhere unfold in layers, like the palimpsest of signs and shadows in the photograph of the peeling, paint-crusted Parisian wall with which Flâneuse begins ... Her historical and literary portraits take their power from her talent for seeing aslant, making the familiar strange and vice versa ... Ms. Elkin’s clear-eyed view of her own flâneuserie is one of the charms of a book that is pedestrian in the best possible sense: It makes you want to walk.
PanThe New York Times Book ReviewSchiff’s glib, compendious and often maddening account of the events of that fateful year, does a great deal to punch up the story, but little to explore and still less to understand its significance....Schiff here broadens her lens, like an artist turning from portraits to teeming allegories: Rembrandt taking up the work of Bosch. But a crowded canvas does not a probing history make, as The Witches powerfully demonstrates.